July 9, 2015

"You Need to Make Your Presentation Interactive"

Conference planners exhort presenters to include

more interactive elements in their sessions. 

Many remain wary of doing so.


If you have a learning and instructional design background you can forget how intimidating adding interactive segments can be to individuals more accustomed to primarily lecture or presentation segments.  For starters, they probably don't think in terms of segments.

Having coached a fair number of these wary subject matter experts, I’m sharing advice I offer them (and that I take heed of for my own presentations) in a three-part series this month.   


Much has been written about the adult learner and learning in general. It would be foolhardy of me to try and prove in a blog post that interaction is valuable when books and dissertations address the topic. Trust me. Ample research affirms the value of engaging adult learners in sharing their own expertise and experiences, and that more active engagement with content leads to greater retention and application of material. 

But for some people almost any mention of interaction immediately recalls icebreakers or other exercises that they associate with being touchy-feely. This association is something presenters need to consider when selecting interactive elements and inviting participants to engage with each other, the subject of a future post. 

So what do I mean by interaction and engagement? For my purposes, I will use those terms fairly interchangeably.  In doing so, I mean any time that a presentation (keynote, workshop, et al) shifts from participants passively listening to a speaker (soapbox) and becoming more actively engaged (sandbox) with themselves, with each other, and with the presenter.  

The biggest misperception I want to correct is that interaction equals extroversion.  This is why some eyes roll when presenters announce their session is interactive: people fear having to share things with strangers and engage in activities in which they may feel socially awkward.  Because we have such a bias that participation = speaking, speakers often default to extroverted formats that do indeed marginalize more introverted learners. For a quick introduction into honoring these more quiet and reflective individuals see Susan Cain's book Quiet or her TED talk.

Instead of equating participating with speaking and always engaging people in extroverted ways, think of interaction as any learning format that enables participants to connect with and explore the presenter's perspective, their own experiences and ideas (and those of other participants), and the potential connections among them. Applying this mindset means a reflection worksheet that participants complete individually (introverted process) is interactive … as is any conversation they might have with others about the responses they just noted (extroverted process).

This is why adding interactive elements is so important: it deepens participants' exploration and engagement with the content. It engages them in making sense of the presenters' insights and measuring them against the experiences of others.  It involves them in answering the "so what? now what?" questions that lead to application and change. And because participants have diverse preferences about how they like to learn, we want to engage them in varying ways as well.

In the next post, I'll examine the concern some presenters have about losing control of the content if they add interaction.

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